KENT — If you're a Kent State women's basketball fan, you're sad that Merissa Barber-Smith's a senior but you're thrilled that Asiah Dingle is only a freshman.
Barber-Smith and Dingle formed a one-two punch that Bowling Green could not dodge in Monday night's Mid-American Conference Tournament opener. Barber-Smith posted her first collegiate double-double with 10 points and a career-high 20 rebounds, and Dingle produced game highs of 25 points and six assists as the fifth-seeded Golden Flashes strolled past the No. 12 seed Falcons 86-62 at the M.A.C. Center.
The Flashes (19-11) move on to meet No. 4 seed Buffalo (20-9) in the quarterfinals on Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, with tipoff set for approximately 2:30 p.m.
Barber-Smith has been a role player throughout her KSU career, but that role has become much more prominent of late. In the past six games, the 6-foot-4 center has averaged 12.8 rebounds and has also finished around the basket better than ever. She had never played 30 minutes before the Flashes' overtime win at Akron last week and has now cracked 30 in three of her past four games.
“She's always been a talented rebounder and shot blocker. She's just getting more minutes now,” KSU coach Todd Starkey said. “She's executing better offensively, so she's not as much of an offensive liability and we can keep her on the court longer. She's feeding off of that. She's playing with more confidence, and we're just kind of letting her go with it.”
Dingle reached double figures for the fifth consecutive game. She broke Falcons defenders down virtually at will off the dribble, drawing 10 fouls that helped her go 11-of-14 from the free-throw line. Dingle tied her career high with six assists and also had four steals and four rebounds.
Three other players reached double figures for Kent State. Junior guard Ali Poole finished with 14 points and four assists, junior guard Megan Carter contributed 12 points, four rebounds and four assists, and freshman forward Lindsey Thall added 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
Alexa Golden, playing her final game at the M.A.C. Center along with fellow senior Barber-Smith, made 3-of-4 3-pointers for nine points.
Despite being the 12th and last seed in the tournament, the Falcons (9-21) were considered dangerous after defeating the Flashes by 13 in Bowling Green just over a week ago.
But the Falcons' upset hopes were squelched by the Flashes literally in a matter of minutes on Monday.
Golden set the tone by burying a 3 for the game's first points, and a three-point play by Dingle put Kent State ahead 14-2 just over five minutes into the game. Dingle took a steal and went coast-to-coast then made another layup, and Poole nailed a jumper to give the Flashes a 23-3 cushion late in the opening quarter.
Kent State expanded the lead to 45-22 by halftime.
“That was important for us to get out to a quick start,” Starkey said.
Bowling Green made one mini-run late in the third quarter, creeping to within 16. But Dingle made two free throws, then took another steal coast-to-coast and flipped in a layup while drawing a foul for a three-point play to put Kent State back on top by 21.
The Flashes outrebounded the Falcons 44-28.
Junior forward Andrea Cecil led Bowling Green with 17 points and 11 rebounds.